He was the fourth son and second crown prince of Emperor Guangwu. It was during Emperor Ming's reign that Buddhism began to spread into China.
Emperor Ming was a hard-working, able administrator of the empire who showed integrity and demanded integrity from his officials. He also established the control of the Chinese Empire on the Tarim Basin and eradicated the Xiongnu influence there, through the conquests of his general Ban Chao.
Liu Yang was born in 28 to Emperor Guangwu and his first love, Consort Yin Lihua. Emperor Guangwu, then still an official under Gengshi Emperor, had married Yin in 23 and, after he became emperor in 25, had wanted to create her empress, but she declined because she had no sons at that point. Instead, she endorsed Consort Guo, who had already had a son (Liu Jiang (劉疆)), and Emperor Guangwu created Consort Guo empress and Prince Jiang crown prince in 26. However, Prince Yang's birth in 28 was still considered a major event.